2007.01 17 How about a tasty e-meal?

Written by David Green.

Feeling hungry? How about a nice, tasty e-meal?


By RICH FOLEY

Don’t you just love the way inventors keep coming up with new ideas to separate the lonely from their money? Last fall, there was the guy in Europe who had the brainstorm of selling compact discs with pre-recorded dinner conversations on them. The lonely could play them while they ate at home, pretending they were at a real restaurant, listening in on the dialogue of a family of complete strangers. Sounds a little pathetic, doesn’t it?

Now, a technology company in Chicago has taken that idea much further with the introduction of “The Virtual Family Dinner.” This system allows family members in different locations to share a “virtual” meal together with a system not unlike the video conferencing used today in some businesses.

Targeted at the elderly, the system would have a camera and microphone in the kitchen, as well as a video screen as small as a picture frame up to as large as a television screen (depending, I guess, on the size of your loneliness and bank account). Another family member (or members), miles or even states away, would have similar setups. When the system detects the elderly person preparing to eat, the other family members hooked to the system are notified, allowing them to go to their own kitchen. They can then see, converse with, or even eat their own meal along with their loved one.

An Associated Press story quotes Dadong Wan, a researcher for system developer Accenture Ltd. as saying, “We are trying to really bring back the kind of family interactions we used to take for granted.” You mean, before all the technological innovations made people too busy to spend time talking with their families?

Folks who see this system as a good idea think it could aid in keeping an eye on elderly family members who eat too little or the wrong foods, and might assist in helping the elderly stay in their own homes longer.

Others think it could result in a loss of privacy for the elderly, as well as being a way of compiling evidence to help prove their inability to live alone.

The people at Accenture hope to sell the system to government agencies and insurance companies, probably not great news to those already concerned about health care costs. Plus, they’re missing out on what could be a potentially much larger target audience: lonely single people with more money than good sense.

Think of the possibilities...what hungry, lonely single guy wouldn’t pay to have a virtual meal with say, Rachael Ray? The cooking diva would describe the tasty gourmet meal she’s preparing for herself while trying not to laugh at the microwave burrito and tater tots you’re having. Of course, the video screen on her side would be huge and divided into hundreds of small windows to accommodate all those willing to put up the money to participate.

Or how much would it be worth to you to be able to tell your friends you “had a drink with Jessica Simpson” last night? You’d have to leave out the part about how you drank a stale beer at your kitchen table while you watched Simpson on a video screen having a pastel-colored “girly drink” at some Hollywood hot spot.

Lonely single women are potential prospects for this type of idea, too. There’s probably enough of a market willing to pay to have a virtual connection with a male celebrity like Brad Pitt or George Clooney to make it worthwhile to pay the celebrity for their participation.

The more I consider this, the more applications I can think of for the technology. Lots of people might be willing to pay for a virtual relationship with sports stars, singers, etc. Politicians could use it in virtual fund-raisers. The possibilities are almost endless.

I suppose I should keep these plans to myself until I have a chance to contact the Accenture people and try to sell them on expanding their target market. I would think my ideas have an earnings potential in the millions, with a healthy chunk of that owed to me. I just hope they don’t decide to pay me in virtual money. Then I’d be the one stuck buying a virtual dinner.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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